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Monday, July 11, 2011

Mexico Wins Under-17 World Cup

Mexico won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup for the second time on Sunday, continuing its recent run of success at the junior level with a 2-0 victory over Uruguay at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
Antonio Briseño and Giovani Casillas scored the goals before a crowd of just under 99,000, but the man of the hour — even though he only played the final 30 minutes — was Julio Gómez.
The enduring affection for star midfielder Julio Gómez simply could not be contained. The Pachuca man single-handedly put Mexico into the final after scoring twice and playing on with a bloody head injury in the semifinal win over Germany. He started the final on the bench, but the fans, many of them wearing bandages on their head in his honour, chanted his name all night long. He received the biggest roar when he finally entered the pitch, head still bandaged, mid-way through the second half. The gathered media, most of them Mexican, also voted with their hearts, voting him the adidas Golden Ball winner as tournament top player by a wide margin.
Mexico previously won the tournament in 2005 — with a team led by Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos — and reached the second round in 2009 out of a group that included Brazil (which did not).
Should their Concacaf neighbors, notably the one to the north, be worried about the newest trophies in the case? Maybe.

The under-17 championship is famously unreliable as a predictor of success at the senior level. Brazil has won the event three times, but so has Nigeria. Spain and England have never lifted the trophy, but Saudi Arabia and Switzerland have. Germany played in the first final, in 1985, but has never been back.
But Mexico’s recent success has already produced tangible results on the senior level. Vela and Dos Santos helped Mexico thrash the United States in the 2009 Concacaf Gold Cup final and qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and three members of the 2005 under-17 championship team — Héctor Moreno, Efraín Juárez and Dos Santos — were in the starting lineup when Mexicorepeated as Gold Cup champion last month.
(The United States also played in the 2005 under-17 tournament won by Mexico, advancing to the second round with a team that included Jozy Altidore, Omar Gonzalez and — sigh — Neven Subotic.)
The current Mexican national team also relies on key players (Javier Hernandez, Pablo Barrera) who were part of the squad that made the quarterfinals of the FIFA under-20 championship in Canada in 2007. Several — notably Hernandez at Manchester United — have put to rest the old criticism that Mexican players rarely impressed when they played outside Mexico.
For most of the past 10 years, the United States seemed to have developed enough talent to catch up to and at last surpass its southern neighbor in soccer. With regulars like Rafael Marquez and Gerardo Torrado getting older, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco at last out of the picture, it seemed as if its would stay that way for a while. But now Mexico has a new core in place, a strike force any of its neighbors would covet, and apparently more help in the pipeline.
Given that, is Mexico — which returns to the United States next month for a friendly — poised to dominate the region for years to come?